Wearable devices: 7 factors to stand out from the crowd

Jennifer Colegrove, Ph.D. Principal Analyst, Touch Display Research Inc.

August 09, 2014

Jennifer Colegrove, Ph.D. Principal Analyst, Touch Display Research Inc.August 09, 2014

While we wait for Apple’s iWatch to be released, over 30 smart watches and fitness wrist bands are already on the market. Seven factors are required for any wearable device to stand out from the crowd: special display, long battery life, heart rate monitor, GPS, human-machine interaction, apps and low price.

We compared over 30 smart watches and fitness wrist bands side-by-side in one chart in the Wearable Technologies report, which just published in July 2014 at TouchDisplayResearch.com. Near-eye devices were also analyzed in this report. Below is a detailed discussion of the seven factors for successful stand out wearable devices.

Factor #1: Special display
A special display is important for wearable devices. A flat rectangle liquid crystal display (LCD) works, but it is too common and not the best performer for wearable. Good sunlight readability is necessary since the user will take the wearable devices outdoor sometimes. Low power consumption is required. Display consumes 15% to 30% of the whole wearable device’s power. Low power display is very critical to the battery life.

Unique form factor. Curved or round (circular) displays are more ergonomic and you can fit a large size around user’s wrist. A large size display could show more information on it without having to scroll couple of times to read one text message. Touch Display Research found that about 1/3 of the smart watches models has curved display or round display. The other 2/3 are with conventional flat square or rectangle displays.

Apple’s rumored iWatch will have a curved AMOLED display. The OLED display finds its niche in the wearable devices--not only smart watches, but also near-eye devices.

Touch Display Research forecasts over 30 million of smart watches would adopt flexible/curved displays by 2023. Overall flexible and curved display market will reach $27 Billion by 2023.

Factor #2: Long Battery life
Most smart watches have less than 1 day of battery life. Consumers need over 1 month battery life. Garmin’s Vivofit is currently the leader on this factor: it has over 1 year of battery life.

There are three ways to expand battery life: one is to have a high capacity, curved battery. Two is to use low power consumption components, such as low power display. Three is to have good power management system.

Factor #3; Heart rate monitor
Heart rate monitor is a necessary feature for sports and fitness wrist bands. According to Mio Global, the No. 1 shipped wearable device in 2013 was the chest strap heart rate monitor. There are over 12 million shipped in 2013, even though it’s not comfortable, but it gives accurate heart rate data. Mio Global supplies heart rate monitor for Adidas. More and more smart watches started to embed heart rate monitor in it.

Recently Intel acquired Basis Science, a startup company who made Basis fitness band. One special technology Basis Science has is an optical sensor to record heart rate.

Factor #4: GPS Navigation
GPS feature is useful for outdoor, large space sports, such as ski, golf, and bike. Garmin is selling several wrist wear devices with GPS function in it. GPS is also useful for the wearable devices designed for kids. So the parents can track where the kids are.

Factor #5: Human-machine interaction
Touch Display Research found that about half of the smart watches models have touch screens. Most are projected capacitive touch screen; Samsung’s Gear Live is using on-cell touch screen.

Due to the small real estate space on a wearable device, sometimes touch screen is not very easy to search for information, voice control and gesture motion sensing control are used. Both Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch are button-less design. The human-machine interface is the touch screen and the voice control. Voice control is a feature comes with Google’s Android Wear OS.

Voice control has been adopted in some smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone. But voice control typically has accuracy issue, especially in noisy environment. Also voice control is limited to certain languages.

Factor #6: Apps
Software is very important. Enterprises and consumers will stick to it if the device is very useful, can’t-live-without-it.

Enterprises would welcome wearable devices if there are apps developed for their business use. For example, airline employees could use Google Glasses for better security and better services. Smart watches could be used for employees on call, just like the old pagers employees wore 15 years ago.

Authentication log in (Figure 1 below) might be one of the apps that wearable devices are looking for. With more and more digital content, online banking and online shopping, we need to memorize more and more password, or PIN (personal identification numbers), or answers to certain questions. Many times, we forgot the password. Some corporations use a token that can show a temporary password to log in. To simplify the log-in process, or called authentication process, there are many new methods now.

One new group of the log-in technology is called Biometric, which is based on our physical body or our behavior.

Another new group of log-in is to use a small device you hold, to log into a larger device. Wearable devices could be used as a log-in device to unlock your smart phone or your computer, or even your home door.

Figure 1. Log-in technologies (Source: Touch Display Research Inc, Touch and Emerging Display report, August 2014)

A wide compatibility is needed for wearable. If the wearable device is compatible to both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS, it’ll be pretty much appealing to over 80% smart phone owners. A universally compatible wearable device will be ideal.

Factor #7: Low price
Most current smart watch and wrist band prices range from $99 to $400. Some high-end luxury wearable is accepting pre-order at $1500. On the other hand, China-based Xiaomi just announced a wrist band, called Mi Band for only $13. (But the availability is not announced yet). If your wearable device’s price is that low, you can forget 4 out of the 6 factors we discussed above. Otherwise, as long as you meet 2 of the 6 factors, such as a heart rate monitor and a good app, the device will sell very well.

Dr. Jennifer K. Colegrove is the founder, CEO and principal analyst of Touch Display Research Inc.,  a market research and consulting firm focussed on touch screen and emerging display technologies. She writes reports and performs consulting projects on touch screen and display technologies, including touch screens, ITO replacement, near-eye displays, flexible displays, OLED displays, OLED lighting, 3D displays, e-paper displays, pocket projectors, gesture control, voice control, eye control.

Dr. Colegrove has advised over 200 companies through her standard reports or consulting projects in recent several years. She is currently a member of advisory board at Linde, which is the world’s largest gases and engineering company. She has five patent applications with one US patent granted. She has a Ph.D. from Liquid Crystal Institute at Kent State University in Ohio and received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees with honors from Beijing University in Beijing, China. She can be reached at jc@touchdisplayresearch.com.

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